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Sharing passion

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Colombo Supper Club ties up with Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo to give a taste of global art

By Uditha Jayasinghe 

Good food is both an individual and international passion and some people are lucky enough to tap into these spheres together. For Barcelona born Chef Jordi Noguera and Colombo Supper Club Founder Naserah Tyebally, this link is a self-defining one. 

Chef Jordi is the Executive Chef of FOC Restaurants, which means “fire” in Catalan. Having grown up in a village near Barcelona he happily admits that food always had a destiny-like pull on him.      

“My father was a chef, my grandmother was a chef. I wanted to be a football player, but no chance,” he said with a self-depreciating grin. 

Having landed in Sri Lanka just the day before Chef Jordi and his assistant were in full swing preparing for their Colombo Supper Club event and had spent several hours putting the final touches on what they would serve their discerning guests. A visit to Colpetty market, an encounter with a wood-apple and a tuk ride later he was at Shangri-La Hotel Colombo’s Table One restaurant to demonstrate a dish and chat about food.    

“I started 24 years ago and pretty much, here I am, and very happy to have met people who are so passionate about food and are willing to bring us over to do what we love. That is amazing.” 

Moving on from his family-owned restaurant in Spain, Chef Jordi worked under Michelin-starred Carles Gaig, owner and chef of Restaurante Gaig and Fonda Gaig, Barcelona and the legendary Juan Mari Arzak, owner and chef of Arzak. In 2012, he relocated to Singapore to head Foodbar Dada, eventually moving onto start his own venture, FOC, which is already open in three locations. 

“The idea for 2018 is to settle. We opened two restaurants in one year in 2017 and that was crazy. We are also looking at expanding out of Singapore, so we will see, we have some offers but we still need to sit down and see how to move forward.”  

Chef Jordi’s style of food is what is beloved in Spain and elsewhere in the world. Simple dishes with the best of ingredients, served in a casual style that is welcoming, hearty and fun. It is comforting because it is familiar and memorable because it evokes a sense of belonging. There are no table clothes, closed kitchens or pretension. Chef Jodi serves what he believes.   

“I’ve travelled a bit and I really think that Spanish food is the best, at least for me. I love other cuisines but the prime ingredients that we have in Spain, the vegetables, the olive oil, the seafood and meat, I cannot find anywhere else. There is something similar, maybe because I have more knowledge, but the variety that we have cannot be found in one location.” 

But the magic of cooking in different countries and learning and being inspired by their cuisines is not lost on Chef Jordi. Sri Lanka, his first South Asian destination, has fascinated him with its variety and extensive use of spices.  

“I really think that the food here is more advanced that some of the East Asian locations I have been to. Here you guys have more complexity, more dishes, and more personality. What we do is very simple food, very honest food with very good ingredients, it is not fine dining per se but we use fine dining techniques to finish dishes. Every dish needs a different technique and mix for the plate or dish that you want to do and then we try to use that technique for the ingredient.” 

Locally-produced food is an obvious part of this intricate balance to deliver the right dish to the right palate. Like most Chefs, Jordi is focused on colour, texture and flavour but he makes an extra effort to keep the dish as simple as possible, using four to five ingredients in total. But he does concede that the Sri Lankan taste might be a pinch more demanding.“I am learning, I’m trying to bring a bit of spiciness in my Spanish food. My tolerance for spice has increased a lot since I came. I’m not like you guys but I like to cook with spices so some dishes I try to add something that gives a bit of extra joy.

“This is a learning experience for us as well. We are coming to your place to learn as well, what is cooking here, what is happening here, what are the products that we can use. It’s very helpful to be with local chefs and get ideas. We are just here to learn, we are not here to teach.”   

Embracing different experiences, even the ones that push boundaries is advocated by Chef Jordi. For him it is the best way to live.    

“I’m always open to everything. I’m learning every day and I’m very thankful to that. I don’t always have the time to go out and eat but when I do, I really enjoy it. Every dish, every single thing you twist something.” 

This open-armed passion is something Colombo Supper Club Founder Naserah Tyebally can easily relate to. Having begun Colombo Supper Club, on a spur of the moment inspiration, she has found a way to not just convert her passion into a venture but also share her passion with an ever-expanding diverse group of people.

Having started Colombo Supper Club in November 2016 she has brought down about a dozen chefs specialising in everything from modern European to French-Korean and is looking forward to her tie-up with Shangri-La Hotel, Colombo. The first supper club will feature Japanese cuisine and will be hosted by the hotel in May.      

“The idea was to take cuisines from around the world and bring them to Sri Lanka. As far as I’m concerned any partner that is happy to support my mission and initiative is very comforting and uplifting to me. My aim is to have chefs from all over the world, showcase what they do for Sri Lanka, for the food and beverage industry in Sri Lanka to benefit from what they bring, in terms of their expertise, and resources here, and for the industry here to grow with it,” said Naserah.  

Colombo Supper Club has been an instant, if somewhat discreet hit. It has attracted tourists, Colombo’s well-heeled and out-of-towners with the club’s eclectic array of chefs, which Naserah avidly admits is the best part of her work. People who are interested can keep track of the Colombo Supper Club’s Instagram and Facebook pages for upcoming events. Tickets are priced according to the cuisine, wine and venue plan giving different budgets the chance to access them. 

Sri Lankan-born chef Rishi Naleendra was the first chef brought down by Colombo Supper Club after Naserah patronised his restaurant and asked to meet the chef following an impressive meal. He later became the first Sri Lankan to win a Michelin star.   

“I strolled into this restaurant and I had a fabulous meal. At end of it I asked to meet the chef and he was so excited to know that I lived in his homeland. I was with a friend and she poked me and said, “Tell him that you will bring him to Sri Lanka,” and made me take down his number. After I returned to Sri Lanka from my holiday, I impulse texted and asked, “Do you really want to come?” and he said ‘Absolutely.’”

The start of Colombo Supper Club was an auspicious one and it has since grown into a steady stream of renowned international chefs that are commonly featured about nine months of the year. After the Japanese event in May a French chef is lined up to impress.  

“These top chefs are part of a tight-knit global club. The Japanese chef who will be coming in May is very keen and excited. His friend who I brought down to Sri Lanka in September last year told him of his fantastic experience and he called me to say he was on board. When they know that you do the best for them, they are very eager to please. Most of my chefs have been very eager to teach and to share their knowledge. Most of my experience with Sri Lankan chefs is that they are so keen to absorb every little bit of knowledge they can, just from watching.” 

It’s a two-way culinary road, insists Naserah, “The chefs get to share the passion of their life, globally spreading their art. I believe food is a global form of art.”

Pix by Lasantha Perera

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